An open space, set with tables and chairs arranged to support discussion. Forty or fifty women of all ages are seated around the room; the vibe is good, although it is after lunch and the energy is flagging. One by one, the women stand and share a personal goal. The others respond with suggestions, connections and encouragement.
Me: So, my goal is a little different. I’ve already done the blow up your career thing and now I’m trying to figure out what’s next. I’m 54 and a half and I’ve decided that my goal is to be the fittest I’ve ever been when I turn 55.
The room erupts into cheers and applause as if a collective but secretly held wish has suddenly been publicly recognized and fulfilled. Ideas fill the air like celebratory confetti.
The Chorus: Jump start with a spa vacation…try piloxing…I have a personal trainer to recommend…November Project is cool…walk….run…swim…use social media to support you…you’d like contra dancing…belly dancing…Bollywood…or Zuca…hike with friends…yoga, of course…you should train for a triathlon!
Me: (sotto voce) Whoa. Did I just say that out loud?
An hour later; a subway platform, funky at the end of the long work week, crowded with tourists and commuters.
I am standing a little apart, thumbing through cards with more suggestions. Inspired by my goal, a twenty-something heptathlete offers to be my accountability buddy. A contemporary mentions all Zumba classes are posted online. I am awed by the generosity of spirit, the power of validation, the thrill of possibility.
Later that night; a dining room with a lap top open on a table set with water glasses and bright woven place mats. Cards and slips of paper are strewn about.
I am sending thank you notes to those who offered suggestions, following-up on my own promised e-introductions and googling Zumba.
Me: (to the keyboard) Am I doing this?
The next morning; a community room above the local firehouse; the room is filled with women and salsa music. A Zumba instructor’s enthusiasm adds a vibrant pulse; a young participant’s many plaits dance along with her. At the end of class, women introduce themselves and welcome the newbie.
Me: (to myself, bemused) Does this “journey of a thousand miles” begin with dance steps?
The next morning; a wooded park. The “thousand miles” metaphor lingers in the air enticingly, ripe with poetry and promise. A man and his dog walk by, then a woman and her dog. A doe regards the scene levelly from 30 feet.
Me:(muttering to myself) 1000 miles…6 months…5 1/2 miles a day…
The Doe: Just do it.
A virtual tracker begins to appear in background, stage left, showing morning meditation, qi gong, oatmeal and shoulder PT; 7.5 miles logged already. If it had a happy face, that would be showing too.
Me: (still muttering) Better get an app for that. This tracking thing could get old.
The next morning; a basement room, carpeted and tidy, but cluttered. Scattered on the floor are damp sneakers, an unused DDR mat and an iPad playing qi gong, tai chi videos and a workout app.
Tracker, back stage left: morning meditation, qi gong, PT, 7 Minute Workout. 12 miles.
The next evening; a dining room, the table set for dinner, the laptop replaced by an iPad. Two women are comparing workout notes. They wiggle merrily in their seats as they watch Heather Craig and her Booty Luv.
“The Coach”: So, do you have strategies for when you start to flag?
Me: Oh yeah – I’m on it.
Tracker: meditation, PT, Booty Luv. 17.5 miles.
The next evening; outside an office building at dusk. A rainy day, grey, and dripping with disappointed ennui. I hesitate in the doorway, buffeted by wind and rain and guilt, and then step into the blustery ooze.
Me: (to no one in particular) What a slug.
Me: (to Me in particular) Take the long way home – and when you get there, confirm plans with the heptathlete for breakfast next week. Anything that spooks you that much must be good for you.
Tracker: PT. 21.5 miles.
Noon the next day: a cheerful restaurant at the busy lunch hour. Two women muse that a nicer day would have made for a lovely shared walk with the dog. Outside, unrelenting rain falls, as Hurricane Joaquin continues to rattle his saber. I decide to be unimpressed.
Tracker: meditation, qi gong, PT, 7 Minute Workout between laundry loads. I feel righteous and righted, as if my little ship has weathered the squall. 28.5 miles.
The next day; an auditorium filled with a 100 people eager for ideas worth spreading.
Speaker 1: Einstein once said, “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”
Speaker 2: We need for you to show up in this life.
Speaker 3: The human body was designed to run 5-9 miles a day.
Speaker 4: I believe that if you are on the right track, the world conspires to help you.
Me: I said it – guess I meant it.
The Tracker pulses, as if alive: meditation, PT. 33.5 miles.
A playwright has a story to tell, the actor a performance to make. The dramaturg is their bridge, shaping the story into a form that may be acted. Here, now, I am all three: conceiving, interpreting, performing.
The final act, of course, has yet to be written, the story still to unfold. Will our heroine reach her “absurd” goal? Will The Chorus stand with her? Whence inspiration as winter unleashes it’s colder and more dreadful fury?
We shall see. We shall see.
A Word About Measurement: “Fittest ever” is admittedly a little vague as goals go. How will we know? I think about it holistically: am I stronger? more flexible? showing greater endurance? All improvement counts. The journey — the glory! — is in pushing against the frontier. Improvements from baseline can easily be measured. Strength, flexibility, endurance – these all come down to numbers. But in the end, I will know it when I see it, even if quantifying superlative status may be a little speculative.
Audience Participation: Like the Greek choruses of old, the initial momentum for this journey was made possible by the support of a crowd of strangers. Life is not a spectator sport and I hope you, too, will take part in the story’s unfolding. Come back for updates; help me shape the tale itself; offer support and encouragement. Or join me. I’m fantasizing about a #fittestever phenom.
We shall see. We shall see.
Life Lesson #25: Truth: The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.